I was really excited to cover the 25 Hours Of Thunderhill, as I have heard about the race for years. It is relatively local to me (a seven-hour drive), so I figured this would be the perfect time to see what all the fuss was about.
According to the guys who have been coming for years, I had it easy. There was no rain or snow, but I did have to battle the cold: even though the locals were wearing shorts, I was freezing. This was my first time coming to this relatively new track, and I did not know what to expect. It took an entire day to familiarize myself with the three-mile circuit.
This was a place was “built by racers, for racers”, so there were no spectator areas whatsoever. The circuit itself was beautiful, as it flowed with the natural rolling hills.
The most famous corner is turn five, and there are two configurations for this particular part of the track. In either configuration the cars get very light and sometimes even get airborne. For the 25-hour race, they choose the faster but more mild route.
The track was just a short drive from the California wine country, and I bet there were vineyards here before the land was used for racing.
Everywhere I looked I saw a Windows XP desktop.
One very unique thing about Thunderhill was the absence of barriers for us photographers to hide behind. Therefore we just went anywhere we wanted, but we kept our distance. That meant we often ended up in the bush. It’s almost like we were hunting for speed or something.
My main focus was to follow Speedhunters driver Edward Sandstrom. He was driving the Acura ILX built and run by the Honda Research West team.
This was the first time Edward had raced on American soil and he will go into more detail about it in his upcoming blog.
I was chatting with Edward a bit during the race and he was mentioning to me how bad the traffic was. The team qualified P1 and P2 in the E1 class, so they really had to battle through traffic non-stop as there were many cars that were much slower.
It really made for an interesting show and there was never a dull moment on track. Surprisingly there were very few incidents, probably because the weather was great and the visibility was always excellent. In fact this was the first year that qualifying went without a single caution.
As with all endurance races, the drivers had to battle fatigue and dehydration. Lucky for these guys NASA (the National Auto Sport Association) normally allows all the cars to run with their windows open. You would never see such a thing in Europe or Japan.
Another thing I love about endurance racing is the different types of cars that run across the classes. For the particular race there were six classes in total. They ranged from the Mazda Miata-dominated E3 class to the prototype open-cockpit cars in the ESR class.
The track completely changed at night, as there were no lights anywhere on the track except for on the front straight and in the pit-lane.
So I did most of my shooting when it was still light out.
Just as the sun would dip below the horizon the sky would turn a different shades of pink and purple.
The only other place I have seen such light was on top of Pikes Peak.
I think it really complemented the cars, especially because most of the cars were running giant spotlights.
Right before it went completely dark, the sky had a beautiful blue hue to it. This only lasted a few minutes, so I made the most of it.
One of the coolest cars out there was this Factory Five Racing Roadster running in the ES class. Unfortunately, they had many problems including engine failure and the Boothman Racing team had to retire the Roadster early on in the race.
The oddball out was this crazy flame-shooting Chevy Silverado run by Lynam Racing which even led the race for over seven hours during the night. The running joke was that it had rocket boosters.
They ended up finishing third in class and sixth overall. Not bad for a pickup truck, eh?
Besides the Mazda Miata, much of the rest of the field was taken up by the Ultimate Driving Machine.
There were just so many Bimmers and most of them were the older E30 3-series.
I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of the E46 3-series in amateur endurance racing once they become more affordable. They just look great and I have always wanted an E46 M3. Sigh. A Speedhunter can dream, right?
It is hard to pick a favorite shot from the entire weekend, but this snap of the winning Motorsport Solutions Porsche 997 Cup car during the sunset is pretty high on the list. I think it summed up the scenery of this wonderful facility pretty well.
One of the five drivers that piloted the Porsche to victory happened to be Formula drift driver Tyler McQuarrie. This was his first overall win, but it was his fifth class-win in a row. On top of that, the five wins were with multiple teams.
They nearly lost the lead due to an axle failure with less an hour left in the race, but due to a quick repair in pit-lane they kept a lead of three laps and eventually finished nine laps ahead of second place. I will go into more detail about what the team had to go through in my next post.
Once the race was over, I saw grown men tear up in joy. It was so satisfying for many competitors, as some of them just entered to see if they could survive the grueling 25-hour race. Just finishing was a big feat in itself.
This guy was so happy at the end of the race that when he was drinking his victory champagne he drank a little too forcefully.
He accidently chipped his tooth with the glass champagne bottle. Well, at least he was in good spirits about it.
That is it for now, but stay tuned for more coverage from America’s longest endurance race.